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Wednesday, July 17th 2013

11:33 AM

Post-Trayvon Trial Thoughts

"What do you call a Black man who's a MA, a BS, a PhD, a JD? I'll tell you what the White man calls him; he calls him a Nigger."
-Malcolm X

I've been largely silent about the Trayvon case over the past year and a half, partly because of my focus here and elsewhere on what I consider to be Sexual Politics issues, and partly because I wanted to hold my fire until after the court has had its say. Its been four days since then, and I'm still not quite sure how to put my thoughts and feelings into words...so please pardon me if I ramble around a bit. 

As is so often the case, major public events like celebrated court trials are so much more than a mere matter of fact-finding, assigning blame, and punishing the guilty (or NOT, this time around); they are, in a very real, profound sense, National Rorshach Tests, administered to the public at large, with the results being just as variegated, and just as profound. In so many ways, all of us were on trial; the American Project was on trial...

...and we all were found guilty. 

That line above will no doubt upset, even anger my fellow African American Brothas and Sistas, for appearing to blame the victim - Trayvon in particular, and Black America more generally; but the harsh, bitter truth that, especially if you're Black, you know all too well - that we've got some major housekeeping to do if we're to have any hope of making things better. We can be pissed off that Zimmerman walked, but every pair of Black eyes reading this right now knows that there are scores of murdered Black Men across this country whose killers - who are overwhelmingly Black themselves - are walking free as the proverbial bird as I type and as you read these words. And in our communities, no less. In some cases - many more than we would like to admit to ourselves, and especially within earshot of Whites - *we know who the killers are*. In no way am I saying any of this is cool, and I for one am certainly not happy with the verdict - but if nothing else, Trayvon's family can say that they had their day in court. There are arguably tens of thousands of Black Men in their graves, and the families they've left behind, who cannot. 

Some have voiced their disgust at what they saw as an execution of a Old Jedi Mindtrick, turning the trial of George Zimmerman into a trial of Trayvon Martin - every nook and cranny of the latter's life turned inside-out, examined, scrutinized, held up for ridicule, and ultimately taken into account to explain how and why Trayvon wound up on a coroner's slab. In the minds of Zimmerman's defenders - of which there are arguably legion - Trayvon was on a collision course with the prison yard, the graveyard, or both. 

And while, yes, one could certainly make an argument for how all those factoids about Trayvon's life - his apparent fondness for the nowadays immensely popular Southern iteration of Gangsta Rap music and lifestyle, his interest in firearms, his evident facility for close-quarters combat and his troubles in school - were techinically irrelevant to the case, in so many ways, again, ways that we as Black people may not want to publically admit, it was so painfully relevant. Taken together, Trayvon's activities do not have the appearance of an upstanding citizen. Look, it's time to take the idea of examining - and redefining - Black Masculinity, seriously, because far too many Black Men and boys, see "being a Man" through the very narrow - and often dangerous, if not deadly - prism that Trayvon did. Many reading this will rightly wonder aloud whether Trayvon looking and acting closer to the fictional Carlton or Urkel would have made a difference in the overall scheme of things, and they would have a point for reasons I'll explain below; but I maintain, that it wouldn't hurt. Simply put, and if there can be any good that comes out of this horrible ordeal, it's that Trayvon's life is a grand opportunity for Black Men to begin a long and brutally honest conversation, among ourselves, about how we see ourselves as Black Men, and whether we have any role or say at all in how others see us as well. As far as I am concerned, as a lifelong Brotha, Trayvon will have truly died in vain if we, once again, never seem to miss an opportunity, to miss an opportunity. 

And for my White friends out there, don't get too happy; as many of you must know by now, I've long been known to be an equal opportunity offender. 

I don't care what the law says. I, as a Black Man, have very deep and abiding problems with the idea of any White Man thinking that he's Judge Dredd - that he can, on the basis of how I look/act *to him*, follow me around, invade my personal space, question, possibly detain and even kill me, with impunity. Like Zimmerman, I too participated in a neighborhood town watch, at a time when not only was my neighborhood experiencing all manner of crime from car break-ins to prostitution, drugs dealing, rape and homicide, but I got involved in said town watch as a direct result of Ms. Brown Sugah and I being accosted by three thugs on the evening of Valentine's Day (I fended all three off unarmed). I didn't need a gun to deal with them that night, and I didn't need one to make my neighborhood safer to the tune of a 50% reduction in crime across the board in the year since my joining the town watch. My training in town watch is nothing Zimmerman did; as far as I am concerned, he is a vigilante, a loose cannon and creates as many problems he has purportedly set out to solve. And that is putting it mildly.

Yeah, yeah, I know you don't want to hear it, but you're gonna - Black Men have been treated like this long before the phrase, "Black on Black crime" became a household word - and I for one, have no intention of seeing any of you turning the clock back. (Please be advised that I can and will defend me and mine, and that any attempts to "Zimmerman" me will not end well...for you. Best you just let me go about my business. Doing so will add years to your life.)

Nor am I cool with all the supposedly "progressive" Whites, who sat and continue to sit idly by, while their more strident brethren whoop and holler in congratulatory glee that Zimmerman walked. Your flowery asides to quasi-metaphysical claptrap do not impress me, your concern troll-like "admonitions" of how "hate" and "racism" "ain't just a White thing" do not mollify me, and your overall silence and patent refusal to openly and vocally chin-check your knuckledragging brothers and sisters only heightens my distrust in the whole lot of you. Now I truly understand what my dad and grand dad meant, when they said that in the South, a (Black) Man always knew where he stood. Sometimes life grants us little moments of clarity, and the events of the past few days have been most clarifying indeed. 

Lastly, a personal account. 

A few years back, Ms. Brown Sugah and I were at the mall; it was around X-mas time, and I hadn't worn a hat that day. It was very cold, and she insisted that I wear one lest I catch a cold. I spent the better part of an hour trying to find a skullie that didn't make me appear as one of the local knuckleheads around the way. Despite my best attempts, it didn't work.

Some months later, while waiting for my order of General Tso's Chicken at the neighborhood Chinese takeout joint, I come *this* close to winding up like Amadou Diallo because half a dozen police cars respond to a call of a Black male giving the Asian shop owners a hard time. The Black male in question was there alright, someone I'd never seen before or since, didn't know, didn't even know his name, and appeared nothing like me, especially in terms of dress - he was unkempt, pants sagging, skullie on cockeyed, scruffy-looking, you name it; I, looking neat and spiffy. 

And yet, when the cops came, both of us got slammed against the wall, and when I tried to throw the police off me and explain that they got the wrong guy, guns were drawn - about a dozen of them. Forced to take low, I relented, and was released an hour later. No apology. No "we made a mistake". 

No nothing. 

At the time, I was living in the NYC area, but I've experienced this kind of treatment on the part of White police in every area I've lived, worked or visited. I've been harassed by them coming from/going to the job, wearing work blue-Dickies and Timberland boots or business-casual shoes, slacks and button-down shirtsleeves; I've been hasseled by the (White) cops coming from the movies; I've been given the business by (White) cops while/for simply taking a drive in the suburbs (which got so bad I decided to get rid of my car, and I'm not the only Brotha who's done this).

After looking at the ways "respectable" Black Men, like Obama and Skip Gates, are treated by Whites, and coupled with my own extenisive experience along these lines, I've come to the conclusion that no matter *what* Black Men do, in the eyes of Whites, we're suspect. And I don't know what to make of that. 

What I do know, is this: everytime I walk outside my door and step into the wider world, I do so with the sober realization that there is a better than average chance that I may not make it back. Everytime I do make it back home, be it from a long distance trip many hundreds of miles away or be it from a trip to the Papi Store around the corner, I give thanks for a small victory - because, to paraphrase Malone from The Untouchables, I made it home alive. 

Trayvon, and thousands of other Brothas, cannot say that.

Damn.

Now adjourn your arses...

The Obsidian
15 comment(s).

Posted by Shady_Grady:

Interesting take Obsidian. I hear what you're saying but I would disagree to this extent. Zimmerman knew nothing about Trayvon other than he was young and black. Trayvon had no criminal record nor displayed any criminal intent.

But he's dead b/c Zimmerman found him suspicious.
I don't think there's anyway that Trayvon could have yassuhed or tapdanced his way out of that situation and more importantly he shouldn't have had to done so. If we give up our right to walk the street unmolested we might as well bring back official segregation while we're at it. Because, to me, that's what it is.

I think we (the black community) do ourselves enough harm already by changing behaviors/opinions to assuage white fears. At some point this needs to stop. As the giddy and gleeful reaction of white conservatives show they are happy a black male is dead. Period. Full stop. Trayvon could have been an honor student on the verge of curing cancer and it wouldn't have made a blessed difference to Zimmerman or his supporters. They hate us and no amount of internal change (and I never disagree that it's needed) will alter that.
Wednesday, July 17th 2013 @ 12:21 PM

Posted by Y:

I take your point about Black Masculinity, however I saw a photo of Trayvon as he laid dead in the grass and he looked nothing close to "thuggish". He was wearing khaki skinny jeans, cuffed at the ankle with a very typical black hoodie.
Wednesday, July 17th 2013 @ 1:19 PM

Posted by Paul Z:

I think Trayvon's past behavior DOES matter in court. Whether Zimmerman was guilty was very dependent on whether Trayvon attacked him. Since nobody really saw what happened, we can only use past histories and personalities as a proxy for what may have happened. It's not the perfect way to connect the dots, but it's the best court can do.

But yes, I think Trayvon probably was harassed by Zimmerman based on his looks - young black man and probably dressed/acted like he was up to something. But I don't think Zimmerman physically assaulted Trayvon. By what I understand, Trayvon threw the first punch and started attacking Zimmerman after being verbally harrased, and Zimmerman shot him.

From the law's perspective: Verbally harassing people is frowned upon but not illegal. Physically attacking someone is illegal. Shooting someone while being attacked is legal.
Wednesday, July 17th 2013 @ 2:14 PM

Posted by Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta:

When a husband and a wife can't see eye to eye or can't get along, we don't worry about finding fault or placing blame. It doesn't matter. If they'd be better off living apart and getting a divorce.

If black America and white America see things astonishingly differently, perhaps these differences are irreconcilable and we should recommend a divorce?

If blacks were running their own show, they wouldn't have to worry about many of the issues that most concern their community leadership.
No more racial profiling.
No more not getting fair treatment by the law.
No more wasting time on that ethnocentric European culture, language and history.
No more outsiders interfering and criticizing the culture.

It's sad that all you Yanks can't get along. When do you say that it just isn't going to get any better so maybe try something different?
Wednesday, July 17th 2013 @ 7:23 PM

Posted by Jackytar:

I followed the Zimmerman/Martin thing from afar,(Canada), and was astonished at the way the main stream media openly and blatantly lied and distorted every piece of info that they could to push the narrative that Zimmerman was an evil white man who killed a poor black child in cold blood because he was a racist.
Then when the President of the country weighed in on Martin's side, my jaw nearly hit the floor. The President of the U.S.A is publicly picking sides in your Florida murder trial! You are so screwed.
One piece of testimony that caught my interest was the testimony from Zimmerman's self defense/martial arts instructor, who said that Zimmerman was a weakling, not very strong. If he had been a little stronger and quicker he might have been able to get the better of Martin; or at least give a good enough account of himself to back the younger man off. It didn't happen that way, so the gun came out and a young man is dead.
A year ago, I rushed to the aid of two room mates who were having a violent altercation with a man in the house. I grabbed a (very blunt) hatchet and ran downstairs. I fought the man, landing a few good ones to his head with the hatchet. The police were called, they broke it up. No blood was spilled, No charges were laid. What I didn't know, was that the young man had brain damage from a long ago head injury. He was a 7 year old inside the body of a tall, fit 38 year old man. I am a 50 year old in poor physical condition because of prior illness. I grabbed the hatchet because I knew I wasn't strong enough to do anything with my fists. If that hatchet had been sharp, I might have been an axe murderer, who killed a poor retarded kid.
One room mate, a mean, fat, middle aged, tattooed biker chick treated me with nothing but contempt after that. It came off her in waves. The other woman, a retired school teacher, was afraid of me, and would avoid me. I was asked to move out soon after. I tried to do the right thing. I mind my business now
Wednesday, July 17th 2013 @ 8:18 PM

Posted by TheWidowerSpeaks:

As far as backgrounds go, I can't help but notice that Zimmerman's background just seems to receive little to no focus. I know it shouldn't, but this continues to surprise me.

Zimmerman was charged and arrested for resisting an officer with violence and battery of a law enforcement officer an ended up having to enter an alcohol education program to get them waived. He was also served with a restraining order for domestic violence with his ex-fiancee.

http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/03/27/10894561-zimmerman-accused-of-domestic-violence-fighting-with-a-police-officer?lite

These are pretty clear indications of past violent incidents. Certainly far more direct evidence of violent tendencies than there are for Trayvon Martin. Yet, they seem to have been completely forgotten and ignored. There is no doubt that if Trayvon had a similar arrest history it would have been repeatedly been trotted out there to justify the attack.

Just look at how Charles Ramsay was treated, and he was actually helping save lives.

I agree that there needs to be a serious discussion on manhood in the black community. But my experiences with police and profiling since I traded in my baggy jeans and hoodies for business suits and a briefcase has not resulted in any drop in harassment or fear. Honestly, I probably have gotten pulled over more since I became a lawyer than before because I own a much nicer vehicle now. There is nothing about George Zimmerman that makes me think he would have treated Trayvon any differently had he been wearing a button up shirt and slacks.
Thursday, July 18th 2013 @ 9:12 AM

Posted by TheWidowerSpeaks:

I have read this notion of black people starting their own thing separately multiple times by commenters on several sites.

Gee. Why didn't any of our ancestors ever think to do that? Oh that's right, they did. White people came through and burned the towns down.

http://www.theroot.com/views/legacy-greenwood

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosewood_massacre
Thursday, July 18th 2013 @ 9:19 AM

Posted by Anonymous:

"...no matter *what* Black Men do, in the eyes of Whites, we're suspect."

Let's turn that around. No matter what white men do, in the eyes of blacks, we're suspect. Both statements are true. We're all racist no matter how hard we try not to be. Racism is human nature.
Thursday, July 18th 2013 @ 11:40 AM

Posted by The Janitor:

Good sir, you went IN on this one. Deep.

My only question is, how do you reconcile these two things where you said:

Simply put, and if there can be any good that comes out of this horrible ordeal, it's that Trayvon's life is a grand opportunity for Black Men to begin a long and brutally honest conversation, among ourselves, about how we see ourselves as Black Men, and whether we have any role or say at all in how others see us as well

and this:

I've come to the conclusion that no matter *what* Black Men do, in the eyes of Whites, we're suspect.
Thursday, July 18th 2013 @ 1:59 PM

Posted by Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta:

@TheWidowerSpeaks

A sufficiently armed defense force should be able to repel any interference or invasion.

Perhaps those experiments just weren't separate enough. Check the passports of any visitors and keep troublemakers out.
Thursday, July 18th 2013 @ 5:40 PM

Posted by Coffee Bean:

I have not followed this case closely and am very taken back by how angry people are. I've since looked into it a bit more but what I've found is highly incendiary accusations from both sides of the fence. My personal view is that an unarmed 17 year old is dead and that is the only "fact" I can know for sure. We have a judicial system in place and the ruling was to acquit Zimmerman so I'm left feeling that, for whatever reasons, that the jury could not convict beyond a reasonable doubt on first degree murder. My question is, given the little I know, why he was not tried for manslaughter rather than first degree murder? Some would argue that that doesn't matter but if I had been a juror it would have for me.

I am a 46 year old white woman. Years ago I befriended a black man in our neighborhood who was close to my age at the time. His wife worked during the day and he worked nights. We would talk while our kids played and he shared things with me that I've never forgotten. He told me that it does something to you when people look at you with fear in their eyes. He told me that he would be driving down the street minding his own business stopped at a light and look over to a driver in another car only to have them nervously lock their doors (before automatic locks). He told me many whites, especially women, would not make eye contact with him. He also said that when he would be walking on the street that women would clutch their purses closer to their sides and start walking faster. All those things I had done myself.

After that I made a concerted effort to make eye contact and to smile and/or be friendly... and not just toward black men.

That's not to say I don't ever feel a quiver in my belly when I'm around black men. I've been in a couple situations where I was threatened... but that can happen with men of any color or background.

Maybe if people could take a step back and imagine what it is like to be in another person's shoes we would al
Thursday, July 18th 2013 @ 6:41 PM

Posted by RR:

I am very saddened by this tragedy, but I feel that the jury returned the correct verdict, given the evidence. I don’t think this is a case of armed white vigilantes walking around meting out their version of street justice. Everyone has a right to self defense, even white men (or in this case, a whitish man). George Zimmerman could have handled things better, but none of his actions were against the law.

I thought this was an interesting statement:

the American Project was on trial......and we all were found guilty.

The American Project has its quirks and bugs. It looks shaky. But in this instance, the system seemed to function as it should. We were not all found guilty, but we black Americans stand indicted by this incident. As you stated elsewhere in your essay, we black Americans should not miss this opportunity to frankly and forthrightly talk about our crime problem. And yes, it is OUR problem. We need to first admit that we commit more crime than other groups and to not attribute our outsized crime levels to historic and vestigial racism. We are more often suspected of being criminals because, as a group, we commit significantly more crime than other groups. No additional qualifiers are necessary.

You wrote:

Brown Sugah and I being accosted by three thugs on the evening of Valentine's Day (I fended all three off unarmed). I didn't need a gun to deal with them that night

That’s great O. My hat is off to you, but there are a few things you are not considering. What if you had been slightly less able to defend yourself, or the thugs had been more capable aggressors, or if the thugs had been armed, or if Brown Sugah had been by herself? Then what? You seem to be trying to make the case that no one has the right to armed self defense. This argument doesn’t make sense on any level.
Saturday, July 20th 2013 @ 3:00 PM

Posted by Mirco Romanato:

I'm from Italy and following the Trayvon Martin / Zimmerman case from the start.

It is a way to learn how things work in reality in the US.

IMO, Zimmerman did nothing wrong.
He was going around HIS neighborhood and he spotted someone acting weird under the rain, at night. He called the police. He told Martin was, maybe, black after the operator asked him. It was dark, at distance, how could he be sure he was black? He could not, so he told "appear black".

People like to talk how Zimmerman "harassed" Martin because he followed him around. It was Zimmerman neighborhood, what if Zimmerman home was near Trayvon father's home. He would have followed him just to get to his own home. He could have noted the strange acting man and waited for him to go ahead because he was not willing to get near him and risk a confrontation with someone apparently under influence of some drug.

And what Trayvon did? Get home, call the police with his phone? No. He chat with his girlfriend and talk about that creepy cracker following him. But apparently he is not afraid, just annoyed. So he turn back, find him, confront him and start a fist fight with him.

He throw the first punch and jump on him.
We know this because the only wounds Trayvon had was the gunshot and on his fists. In the reverse, the photos show Zimmerman nose, head and face wounded, his jacked wet on the behind where he fell on the grass.

Zimmerman appeared a easy picking to Trayvon, that had this gangsta role model where men have respect because they are strong and do not take shit (real or perceived) from anyone. A model not dissimilar to other's. Like it was harassment just for Zimmermen to look at him from afar in the mind of Trayvon, it is harassment for a fat female speaker in TV to tell is harassment when someone criticize her for being too fat in a mail or when a journalist (female) have people expelled from a conference just because they joked by themselves about dongles and forks.
Saturday, July 27th 2013 @ 12:10 PM

Posted by JW:

Wrote this on VSB, but wanted to share it here too.

O, you're always spot on with your analysis. Sorry that most people won't agree with you, but most of us are still in mental slavery. The propaganda had tricked them to thinking that this mythical white man is still here to put us down, but will still pray to their white Jesus. Yes, it's very hard for us black folks out here. But if we want to have the system work in our favor, we have to fix our mess first, then we can worry about the threat of white supremacy. Without wealth, education, and a change of perception, Trayvon's death will be in vain. But looking at the comments from here, I think we still have a long ways to go to recognize the real problem. But individuals like yourself and me, along with others have done so, only to be called betrayers of our race, when if anything, we love our people so much, we're willing to tell it as it is. Thank you again for your sharing your incredible intellect.
Wednesday, July 31st 2013 @ 12:20 AM

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Sunday, August 11th 2013 @ 6:26 PM